Introduction: On Earth as it is In Heaven

Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10)

Readings

Genesis 28:10–13
A ladder from earth to heaven

Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When he came to a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. He had a dream in which he saw a ladder set up on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And there above it stood the Lord.

Matthew 6:7–13
The Lord’s Prayer

When you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Therefore pray in this way:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from evil. For the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever. Amen.”

Arcana Coelestia #1285.3
On earth as it is in heaven

In the first Ancient Church, there were many forms of inner and outer worship. . . . Still, they all had “one lan­guage” and “their words were one.” In other words they all shared one doctrine in general and in detail. Doctrine is one when all people have mutual love, or kindness. Mutual love or kindness causes things, though varied, to be one, since it makes one out of many different things.

If all the people, no matter how many there are— even ten thousand times ten thousand—are governed by kindness and mutual love, they have only one goal in view: the common good, the Lord’s kingdom, and the Lord Himself.

Differences in matters of doctrine and in forms of worship are like the differences among the physical senses and among the inner organs of the human body, which all contribute to the perfection of the whole. The Lord flows in and works by way of kindness, though in different ways according to the character of each indi­vidual. In so doing he arranges every single person into proper order, on earth as in heaven. In this way the Lord’s will is done, as he himself teaches, “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Reflection

Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10)

Heaven and Hell has always been Emanuel Swedenborg’s most popular book—and for good reason. Yet here we all are, living on earth, not in heaven. What good is talk­ing about heaven if it doesn’t make a difference for our lives here on earth?

Jesus responds with: “On earth as it is in heaven.” Millions of Christians say these words from the Lord’s Prayer every week, and some say them every day. You can think of this book, On Earth as it is In Heaven, as a commentary on that one line from the Lord’s Prayer. What does it mean for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven? What is God’s will, anyway? And how do we do it here on earth? Another way of asking this ques­tion is: How do we make earth more like heaven?

Of course, Swedenborg wasn’t the first person to real­ize that heaven was a popular topic. Many centuries ear­lier, Jesus spoke about the kingdom of heaven over and over again. But instead of writing voluminously as Swe­denborg did, he condensed his teachings about heaven into short, pithy parables. Each of them provides a memorable image that we can unpack to learn some­thing about heaven, and about how we can make things here on earth more like heaven.

In these reflections we will unpack the Lord’s para­bles of the kingdom of heaven, as found in the Gospel of Matthew, one at a time, using other Bible passages as well as Swedenborg’s book Heaven and Hell to shed light on each one. Along the way, I hope we will discover some hidden treasures that will help us make life better both for ourselves and for the people around us. As we do this, we build a heaven within and around ourselves right here on earth.

Though the relationship between heaven and earth has not always been clear to human beings on earth, that relationship has always been there. The very first words in the Bible are, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). To get the visual picture, this should probably have been translated “the sky and the earth”; yet humankind has since time immemorial taken the sky as a symbol and a reminder of heaven.

Ever since the beginning, the earth has also started out “formless and empty,” and in need of light shining into it from God and heaven, to bring order and har­mony into the chaos of material reality. The lights in the expanse of the sky are needed to separate day from night, to mark seasons and days and years, and to gov­ern all things below.

In the Garden of Eden story, God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden. Humanity soon fell away from that primeval closeness to God. Yet from time to time, there were still glimpses of that ancient relationship between heaven and earth. Jacob, son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, got such a glimpse during a time of great personal struggle, and it gave him the strength to continue on his journey toward becoming the father of a great nation. At the time of his famous dream of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven, Jacob was fleeing his home and family in fear for his life, after tricking his father and cheating his brother Esau out of the blessing that was due to the elder brother.

Just when Jacob’s life seemed to have reached its low point, God gave him, in his dreams, a wonderful vision of angels ascending from earth to heaven, and descend­ing from heaven to earth, with the Lord himself stand­ing above it. Jacob knew then and there that his life here on earth had a higher meaning than anything he had conceived of before. God had put him on earth for a greater purpose—and his job was to follow God’s will for his life by continually working toward that greater purpose. Heaven had been opened to him, and his life would never be the same again.

In the New Testament also, the Lord reminds us over and over again that we are not living for this earth only; that our life has meaning only when we are seeking the kingdom of heaven in our life here on earth. And he reminds us in the prayer used by so many Christians that we are to seek out God’s will as it is done in heaven, and carry it out on earth.

That is why each one of us was placed here: to be an angel-being, first ascending to heaven in our spirits to discover the true and deeper realities of eternal life, and then descending back to earth to put those higher les­sons into practice in our everyday lives. “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

What will our world look like when God’s will is done here on earth, as it is in heaven? Swedenborg gives us a glimpse of it in Arcana Coelestia #1285. Heaven on earth does not mean that everyone thinks and acts the same. Far from it! In fact, in heavenly society there is a great variety of beliefs, a great variety of worship styles, and a great variety of personalities. Heaven on earth does not mean a boring sameness!

What it does mean is that people of different beliefs, different churches, different worship styles, different personalities do not clash with one another, but instead work together in a harmonious whole. The differences do not divide; instead, they add to the perfection of the whole.

Please join me in these reflections as we search out and discover many more pearls of wisdom about the kingdom of heaven.


(This post is the first chapter in my book, On Earth as it is In Heaven, originally published in 2005. For a description and Table of Contents, please click here. This material is copyright 2005 by Lee Woofenden.)

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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